I am encouraged by the levels of production attained since the end of the strike, although damage to coal faces has had a lasting effect. Between the beginning of March and 4 May over 2,000 miners took voluntary redundancy, reducing the number of men on colliery books to approximately 169,000.
May I take that answer as meaning that working miners are now satisfied that their applications for voluntary redundancy or transfer are being processed speedily? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if earlier reports that miners were not satisfied that such applications were being processed speedily were justified, that would have reflected a substantial betrayal of a brave body of men?
It is up to the management to take decisions on the applications of individual miners. All the individual cases forwarded to me have been taken up by the board and have been dealt with satisfactorily by the management.
Is the Minister aware that at the St. John's colliery 350 miners have volunteered for redundancy payments as a result of two years of threatening closure by the National Coal Board and the Minister? The Minister, in response to an Adjournment debtate that I initiated, said that investigations would take place. Is he aware that the chairman of the board condones actions by the board and by its officers to put pressure on miners to volunteer to become redundant?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as about 14,000 miners have now accepted voluntary retirement, there was no need for the dispute in the first place, Arthur Scargill was completely wrong, and the Government were right in supporting the National Coal Board in getting good value for money and ensuring that the miners did a decent day's work. Does he further agree that the industry is in a better position now than it was 12 months ago?
It is not true that the industry is in a better position. Considerable damage was done by the dispute to markets, coal faces, mining machinery and by delaying substantial investment programme. It is certainly true that a good investment programme, much higher than that of the rest of Europe together, is the best way to guarantee a good future for the industry.
Why does the Secretary of State allow the chairman of the NCB to walk all over him? Regarding redundancy payments, is it not a fact that the NCB is instituting by stealth the closure of collieries without negotiation, and that miners are losing their jobs as a consequence? is the Secretary of State aware that the NACODS' dispute is costing the nation about £24 million a week? He should be worried about that, instead of answering, as he has been doing today, by saying that everything in the garden is lovely. We know that the garden is not lovely.
The main cost of the present dispute is the potential loss of markets for the industry to which the hon. Gentleman has devoted his life. The loss of coal production has been minute, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and there have been only small delays in starting production. The damage to the reputation of the industry has been considerable. With the guarantees given by the NCB, there is no need for the overtime ban to continue.